Green Light For Jones (5/27/97)
Judge Sets May '98 Trial Date In Jones v. Clinton
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Aug. 22) -- A judge today rejected President Bill Clinton's motion to dismiss Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit, and set a May 1998 trial date.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright dismissed a portion of the lawsuit that Clinton had defamed Jones, but let stand the most serious portion of her complaint, alleging sexual harassment. The judge's ruling came after a brief session in chambers with the attorneys.
The trial will begin with a conference of lawyers on May 26, followed by jury selection beginning May 27. Wright put no limits on pre-trial discovery, although the lawyers are bound to fight over that as pre-trial preparations go forward.
Jones claims then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton exposed himself to her and made a crude sexual overture in 1991. The president has denied any wrongdoing.
After the hearing, Jones' attorney, Gilbert Davis, said he was "gratified that this case is proceeding. It is in a court of law, and that's where it'll be tried. It's not going to be tried in the public press." Davis refused to comment on the possibility of an out-of-court settlement. (256K wav sound)
Jones, who attended the hearing, told reporters, "I'm just glad to be back in Arkansas and I'm just glad it's going to proceed and go forward."
Clinton's attorney, Robert Bennett, said Clinton will not apologize and will not admit to conduct that he says did not occur. "We want to get it over with as quickly as we can and that's a good date," Bennett said of the May 1998 date. "We're anxious to get forward with the trial." (416K wav sound)
Jones, who arrived in Little Rock from her California home on Thursday night, got her wish for her day in court. "I've been waiting for this for three years," Jones said on her arrival.
Jones' high-profile spokeswoman, Susan Carpenter McMillan, said, "The president's tried to stall and it hasn't been successful, so it's a great day."
Jones claims the president propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel room six years ago when he was governor and she was a state employee. Her civil-rights lawsuit claims she was transferred to a dead-end job after spurning Clinton's unwanted sexual advance.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in May that the president's official duties don't automatically constitute justification for delaying civil suits against him until he leaves office. But the court also gave the trial judge wide discretion in scheduling motions and a trial.
Jones is seeking $700,000 in damages, but attorneys for both sides are adamant they're prepared to fight the case in court solely to protect their respective clients' reputations.
Davis has said the case is not about money for Jones, but about "her good name and reputation, all she has to carry to her grave."
The White House had no immediate reaction to Webber's decisions.
One political analyst said if the case does go to trial, it may produce sensational headlines, but won't have a dramatic political impact.
Analyst Charles Cook said most people already have made up their minds about how they feel about the president's personal life. They've heard all the allegations, Cook said, and the issue just doesn't matter to many people.CNN's Bob Franken and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.
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